Thursday

25th Feb 2021

Opinion

Georgia is facing the abyss, and calls on EU for help

  • On Monday, special forces stormed the headquarters of the United National Movement to arrest its newly-elected chairman, Nick Melia (Photo: UNM/Twitter)

Georgia, once recognised as a bright pupil in the group of countries embraced by the EU's Eastern Partnership Initiative, is quickly turning into yet another failed attempt to transform the post-Soviet space into functioning democracy.

On Monday (22 February), the special forces stormed the headquarters of the United National Movement to arrest its newly-elected chairman, Nick Melia.

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  • Police used gas against peaceful protestors, vandalised the building and stole the UNM main server and archive (Photo: UNM/Twitter)

The move will deepen the political crisis unfolded by the decision of the governing Georgian Dream party to rig the parliamentary elections in October 2020.

Politically-motivated justice, the capture of state institutions by the private interests of oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, who declared his intention to exit politics, but remains the only decision-maker, running the country from shadows, rapid socio-economic decline, and increased corruption, all are making Georgians hopeless about their future.

When Germany authorised on-line registration for applying for seasonal jobs, a few days ago, over 50,000 Georgians have applied within the first few hours.

That seems to suit well the ruling party, Georgian Dream, with no plan for developing Georgia's desperately poor economy, if the unhappy leave the country, reducing the protest electorate, it only plays into their hands.

Only the Georgians are not ready to give up their country so quickly, as the majority, some 60 percent, voted for change in the October parliamentary elections.

But that does not matter to the governing party, the election summary protocols, rewritten by the government-controlled election administration, decided that Ivanishvili's party won.

Negotiations between the government and opposition, mediated by the EU and US diplomatic missions, have not delivered any results - no agreement has been reached either on ending politically-motivated prosecutions or new elections, two key demands of the opposition.

The plot has now taken a new twist, with the arrest of one of the most popular politicians in Georgia, Melia.

The case against Melia was opened in the summer of 2019, when together with other opposition leaders and hundreds of thousands of citizens, he protested against the appearance of the Russian communist MP, Sergyi Gavrilov, in the Georgian parliament.

The demonstration ended in violent and bloody dispersal.

Earlier this week the one-party parliament stripped Melia of the parliamentary immunity for the second time, having done so already in the summer of 2019, opening a way to prosecution.

Prime minister, Giorgi Gakharia, who just a few months ago led Georgian Dream's election campaign, decided to resign, rather than authorise the forceful detention of Melia, whose supporters have organiwed a peaceful picket line for his protection around the UNM headquarters.

Ironically, the same parliament refused to satisfy the appeals for resigning their seats, filed by Melia and 56 other opposition MPs, including myself, only a week earlier.

As the ambulances were lined up in front of our party headquarters on Monday morning, together with Melia and some 1,000 people in the building, representatives of all opposition parties, youth movements, supporters, and friends, we waited for the arrival of the special forces and prepared for the worst.

The prime minister resignation and strong messages of our Western friends and partners, not least the decision of the ambassador of Lithuania to visit our party headquarters, have delayed the dramatic turn of events by two days.

The choice of the governing party for the new prime minister, Irakli Garibashvili, whose two 'virtues' are complete loyalty to Ivanishvili's family and fierce determination to eradicate the opposition, will certainly not contribute to depolarisation and consensus-building.

His first decision was to authorise a forceful entry into the UNM headquarters and arrest of Melia.

The new PM, borrowing Vladimir Putin's language of 'sovereign democracy,' has also dismissed attempts of the Lithuanian politician, Zygimantas Pavilionis, who spent three days in Tbilisi trying to mitigate the crisis, as unacceptable interference into the affairs of sovereign country.

Police used gas against peaceful protestors, vandalised the building and stole the UNM main server and archive.

What can Brussels do?

What is the way forward and what can the European Union do to push Georgia towards resolving the deep political impasse it has entered?

So far the EU has been vocal in supporting a dialogue, but its message has been mostly calibrated to convince the opposition to end the parliamentary boycott.

This tactic has back-fired as the government has decided to go down the path of political repressions, rather than freeing already existing political prisoners, such as Giorgi Rurua, share-holder of an independent TV channel and supporter of the youth protest movement and ending other politically motivated cases, including the one against Melia, which would make an agreement more likely.

It is time to review the strategy.

Georgia is beyond the point when the negotiations can save the rigged elections of 2020.

The European Union needs to send a strong message to the Georgian government that all cases against the politicians and representatives of independent media have to end. It also has to help the parties to negotiate the only solution-early parliamentary elections and the way forward towards preparing for them-including electoral reform and possibly constitutional changes, to help Georgia's failing democracy.

Those should be the messages which Charles Michel, president of the European Council, scheduled to visit Georgia next month, brings to Tbilisi.

The alternative is deepening of political crisis, civic unrest, and danger, that the next change of government will not take place within the framework of elections, undermining the substantial investment the European Union has made in stability and democracy in this region.

With still on-going transition period and complex agenda facing new administration in Washington, the European Union can and should take a lead in helping Georgia out of this crisis.

Author bio

Salome Samadashvili is a former ambassador to the EU for Georgia, and an MP with the United National Movement party.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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